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Cost of living: dealing with high gas and electricity bills

Contact your energy supplier

If you are struggling to pay your energy bills or you have already fallen behind with payments, get in touch with your supplier as soon as possible. Your supplier has a range of options to help you. The support they may be able to offer you will depend on your situation. Examples of help include:

  • a short-term payment break or a reduction in your payments;
  • advice on accessing financial support that may be available, like benefits you may be entitled to or grants that could pay towards energy debt; and
  • energy efficiency advice.

If you pay by direct debit, you can ask your supplier to explain how your direct debit payment has been worked out. Your supplier may be able to reduce the direct debit if:

  • it is currently based on an overestimate of how much energy you use in a year (see Taking meter readings below); or
  • it includes an amount to repay a debt to your supplier.

If you are in arrears, your supplier should work with you to set up a repayment plan that is affordable to you. For more information, see our Gas and electricity arrears fact sheet.

Taking meter readings

If your bill is based on estimated readings, your supplier could be charging you too much if their estimate is higher than your actual usage. Keep your energy bills as accurate as possible by regularly taking meter readings and sending them to your supplier. If your bill is based on an estimated reading that is too low, providing a meter reading will increase your bill.

If you have been paying for more energy than you have used, your energy account may be in credit. You can ask your supplier for a partial or full refund if you are in credit, but you should consider whether reducing the credit balance will make it difficult to pay your energy bills in colder months. If your supplier refuses to give you a refund, they must explain why they think it is reasonable to hold onto the credit.

For information on how to read your meter, see the Citizens Advice webpage How to read your gas or electricity meter.

If you are not able to physically take a meter reading, your supplier may be able to offer you extra help. See the Priority services register information in our Gas and electricity arrears fact sheet.

Smart meters

Smart meters are a newer type of gas and electricity meter that can send automatic meter readings to your supplier. Bills can be more accurate if you have a smart meter because automatic meter readings mean that your supplier does not have to estimate how much energy you have used.

Smart meters also come with an in-home display, which is a device that shows you how much energy you are using and how much it is costing you in pounds and pence. The information from an in-home display may also help you to identify how you can reduce your energy usage to save money.

Over the next few years, suppliers will have to offer a free smart meter to all of their customers. If you do not have a smart meter already, you can contact your supplier to ask if they will install one for you now.

The Smart Energy GB website has more information about smart meters and their benefits.

Smart meters if you rent your home

You can choose to have a smart meter if you are named on the bill. However, you should check your tenancy agreement to see if there are any rules about the type of meter that can be installed in the property. You may need your landlord’s permission before having a smart meter installed.

If you already have a smart meter

Some smart meters have temporarily stopped working in ‘smart mode’. This means that they are not sending automatic meter readings to suppliers.

If you have a smart meter, use the Citizens Advice smart meter check tool to see if your meter is working in ‘smart mode’. If it isn’t, you should send regular meter readings to your supplier to make sure that you are billed accurately while your meter is not working in smart mode.

Prepayment meters

You should speak to your supplier if you have a prepayment meter and your credit is running low or has run out.

Your supplier may be able to offer you a fuel voucher. A fuel voucher is a code that can be used to add credit to your gas or electricity prepayment meter. Fuel vouchers can usually be redeemed at Post Offices and outlets with PayPoint or Payzone services. You will not have to repay any credit you get through a fuel voucher.

When you speak to your supplier, let them know if you are in financial difficulty and explain if there is anything about your circumstances that makes you vulnerable. There are a wide range of reasons you could be in a vulnerable situation, for example, having a low income, living with a physical or mental health issue or living in a cold energy-inefficient home. Your supplier may offer you an additional support credit to help keep you on supply.

Most prepayment meters also have functions built in to provide:

  • emergency credit, which provides a small amount of credit in emergency situations where you cannot top up your meter; and
  • friendly-hours credit, which allows you to access a small amount of credit at times when top-up points are likely to be closed (this is usually evenings, weekends and bank holidays).

If you do not know how to access the emergency or friendly-hours credit functions, contact your supplier.

You will have to repay any additional support, emergency or friendly-hours credit that you are given. Discuss with your supplier how the credit will be repaid. Your supplier must consider your ability to pay when agreeing a repayment plan with you. For more information, see our Gas and electricity arrears fact sheet.

Help with the cost of energy

Government support

The government has announced the following support to help households with rising energy bills.

Energy Price Guarantee. If you are on your supplier’s standard variable tariff, the government has announced an Energy Price Guarantee that will limit how much your supplier can charge you for each unit of energy.

From 1 October 2022, a household paying by direct debit and using 2,900 kWh of electricity and 12,000 kWh of gas will pay £2,500 per year. Without the guarantee, this would have been £3,549 per year and was predicted to rise further. The guarantee will be in place for six months.

The exact amount you pay will depend on how much energy you use.

If you are on a fixed-term contract that charges more than the Energy Price Guarantee, your supplier should reduce your bills by up to 17p per kWh for electricity and 4.2p per kWh for gas. You can ask your supplier if it would be cheaper for you to cancel the fixed-term contract and move onto their standard variable tariff. If you do consider cancelling a fixed-term contract, check if you will be charged a penalty to exit. Your supplier can’t charge an exit fee if you cancel a contract within 14 days of signing up to it.

For more information, see GOV.UK.

Energy Bills Support Scheme. All households with an electricity connection in England, Scotland and Wales will receive a £400 discount to help with the rising cost of energy. It will be spread over six months and the first payment will be made in October 2022. The discount will not have to be repaid.

Although you do not have to apply for the discount, you will need to take action to add it to your meter if you are on a traditional prepayment meter. You will be sent a voucher by text message, email or post that can be redeemed at your usual top-up point.

For other types of meter, the discount may be provided through a reduction to your direct debit, a refund to your bank account or by applying a credit to your electricity account or smart prepayment meter.

For more information, see GOV.UK.

Household Support Fund (England). The Household Support Fund allows councils to give small grants to help vulnerable households meet essential costs, including paying energy bills. Contact your local council to check if you may be eligible for support from the fund.

Winter Fuel Support Scheme (Wales). Under this scheme, you may be eligible for a one-off payment of £200 if you are in receipt of certain benefits. If you are eligible, you will need to apply to your local council for the payment. The application deadline is 5pm on 23 February 2023.

For more information, including full eligibility criteria, see GOV.Wales.

Discretionary support scheme (Wales). The government in Wales has made £25 million available to councils to provide support to households struggling with the rising costs of living. This discretionary fund may be able to help you with heating costs. Contact your local council for details of their scheme and how to apply.

If you pay energy costs to a landlord

If your landlord has an energy contract with a supplier and passes the cost of energy on to you, it is your landlord that will receive benefit from the Energy Bill Support Scheme and the Energy Price Guarantee. However, your landlord must consider passing on a ‘just and reasonable’ amount of these scheme benefits to you. Your landlord must notify you of their decision on how much they will pass on, even if they decide it is not appropriate to pass on any of the benefit.

Contact us for advice if you feel your landlord is not passing on the right amount of benefit from these schemes. You can also find more information on landlords’ obligations on GOV.UK.

Warm Home Discount

The Warm Home Discount is an automatic one-off payment of £150 to reduce winter energy bills. Licensed electricity suppliers must take part in the scheme if they have at least 50,000 customers. There are two ways to qualify for a Warm Home Discount, by meeting either ‘Core Group 1’ or ‘Core Group 2’ criteria.

Core Group 1

You may be eligible for the discount if your supplier takes part in the scheme and on 21 August 2022:

  • you or your partner were named on the energy bill; and
  • you were getting the Guarantee Credit part of Pension Credit.

Letters about eligibility for the Warm Home Discount usually sent out by the middle of January. It is important to check your post regularly as you could be asked to provide further information to help determine whether you are eligible for a discount.

Core Group 2

You may be eligible for the discount if your supplier takes part in the scheme and you meet low-income and high-energy-cost criteria.

To meet the low-income criteria, you or your partner will need to have been in receipt of one of the following on 21 August 2022:

  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance;
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance;
  • Income Support;
  • only the Savings Credit part of Pension Credit (if you are in receipt of the Guarantee Credit part, you should be eligible for a discount under Core Group 1 criteria);
  • Universal Credit;
  • Housing Benefit; or
  • Child Tax Credit or Working Tax Credit and your household income is below a certain threshold. The threshold that will be applied will depend on the size of your household and whether you are single or part of a couple. For more information see GOV.UK.

To meet the high-energy-cost criteria, the government will have to identify your property as being likely to have high heating costs. They will try do this by looking at property data held by the Valuation Office Agency (VOA). However, it is important to check your post regularly as you may be asked to provide further information to help decide whether you are eligible.

If you meet the low-income criteria but do not receive a letter about Warm Home Discount entitlement by the middle of January 2023, it is likely that your property has not been identified as having high heating costs.

For more information on the Warm Home Discount Scheme, see GOV.UK. You can also check whether you may be eligible for a Warm Home Discount or get information on how you can challenge a decision that you are not eligible by:

Winter Fuel Payment

The Winter Fuel Payment is a one-off, tax-free payment of between £100 and £300 that is made during the winter to help with heating costs if you are eligible for the payment. For winter 2022-23 only, this payment will be topped up with a Pensioner Cost of Living Payment of between £150 to £300.

You may be eligible for the payment if you were born on or before 25 September 1956.

The payment is normally made in November or December. It is usually paid automatically to anyone who is eligible, but in some circumstances you may have to apply for the payment.

For more information, see GOV.UK.

Cold Weather Payment

The Cold Weather Payment is a £25 payment made for each seven-day period of very cold weather between 1 November and 31 March. If you are eligible, the payment will be made when the average temperature in your area is recorded as, or forecast to be, zero degrees Celsius or below over seven consecutive days.

To be eligible for this payment, you need to be getting certain benefits. For full eligibility criteria, see GOV.UK.

Cold Weather Payments are usually made automatically. However, you must make sure you tell Jobcentre Plus if you are getting income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance or Income Support and:

  • you or your partner have a baby; or
  • a child under five comes to live with you.

If Jobcentre Plus is not informed of the change, you might not automatically get the Cold Weather Payment.

Smart meter discount schemes

If you have a smart meter, your supplier may run a discount scheme under National Grid’s Demand Flexibility Service. If your supplier has a discount scheme, you may be able to receive discounts for reducing your electricity usage during 12 sessions of 1 hour over the period 1 November 2022 to 31 March 2023. Suppliers will set the times that usage would need to be reduced and they will give 24 hours’ notice of each one-hour window where you could voluntarily reduce your electricity usage to qualify for a discount.

Contact your supplier or check their website for information on whether they are running a discount scheme, how to sign up to it and how discounts will be provided.

Warm banks

The cost-of-living crisis is making it difficult for many people to cover all of their essential costs, such as keeping their home warm and buying food. If you are struggling, using a warm bank may help you to free up some money.

  • Warm banks are safe places provided by some councils and charitable organisations where you can spend time to keep warm without having to worry about paying the heating bill.
  • Warm banks can be found in different places, such as libraries, community centres and places of worship.
  • While warm banks offer somewhere to keep warm, some may offer additional support like a warm meal or advice.

The warmspaces.org website allows you to search for places near you where you can keep warm. Not all warm banks will be registered on this site, so you could also try searching on the internet using terms like ‘warm bank’ and ‘warm space’.

Trust funds and charities

You may be able to get a grant from a charitable fund to pay off energy debts. You can ask your supplier if they have any funds or schemes that can help you, or you can contact us for advice.

There may be other charities that can help you with your energy bills. Turn2us can try to find charities that may be able to help you. You can do a search on the Turn2us website for a grant.

Energy efficiency

Free energy saving advice

The Simple Energy Advice website provides free, impartial information and guidance on how to save energy. It also has a search tool where you can search for financial support for national and local schemes that may be able to help. For example, there may be schemes that can provide you with free installation of energy efficiency measures in your home.

You can call Simple Energy Advice on 0800 444 202 (Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm and weekends 9am to 5pm).

If you are a homeowner, you can also use an online service on GOV.UK to get recommendations for home improvements that could make your property cheaper to heat and keep warm.

Checking your boiler settings

If you have a combi-boiler, see Nesta’s Money Saving Boiler Challenge for information on how you may be able to save money on your gas bills. The website provides a step-by-step guide on identifying whether changing the ‘flow temperature’ setting on your boiler may save you some money and gives instructions on how to change the setting.

Ten top tips for saving energy

Take a look at the Energy Saving Trust’s top ten tips for saving energy to see if you can do anything else to lower your bills.